- 05 February 2014
- by Megan Foo
Rape, abuse and incest are flagrant violations of human rights – offenses that, for the most part, strip their victims of confidence, only to inject into them a lethal admixture of fear, guilt and shame. These forms of sexual assault precipitate a flood of crippling afflictions, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), deliberate self-harming, sleep and eating disorders, and major depression. Lamentably, despite advancements in medical research, victims of sexual assault often find themselves hemmed in insoluble quandaries due to the absence of all-encompassing, thorough support from anti-sexual assault organizations or crisis centers. Although the foremost priority of any anti-sexual assault organization should be to stop irreversible damage to victims of sexual assault, more often than not, these organizations do not follow up or necessarily work through the psychological problems that have arisen. Thus, victims have to cope with the twofold detriments of psychological trauma and lacking care, inflaming their already shaky mental well-beings.
However, this certainly isn’t the case with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) - America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that works in tandem with rape crisis centers across the country, RAINN’s positive ethos entails imbuing victims of sexual assault with hope, courage and strength, with the ultimate goal of re-instilling confidence in these victims and ensuring that they feel completely supported in their tumultuous journey to recovery. Through its successful formula comprising 100% confidential services, education initiatives, and programs to prevent sexual violence, RAINN has succeeded not only in providing valuable mental health first aid, but also in raising awareness of rape and sexual violence.
RAINN understands not just the necessity of preventing sexual assault, but also the need to get youth involved with its cause and initiatives. Boasting a plethoric network of student activists, RAINN understands that adolescents are more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other age group, and encourages youth volunteerism. One remarkable champion of anti-assault is Kelsey Hirsch, a volunteer for RAINN and the Founder of Bands4RAINN. She too understands the immense need for youth involvement in anti-sexual violence causes. Kelsey notes that youth “are part of the highest risk group. 44% of all victims are 18 years old or younger”. As such, youth need to be informed and involved, so that they can “identify an issue and stop it” before it’s too late.
Spurred to action after reading about the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Kelsey was inspired to “make a difference by helping survivors” of sexual abuse. For her project Bands4RAINN, Kelsey created and sold blue wristbands with RAINN’s mantra “Hope. Courage. Strength” emblazoned on them. So far, she has raised over $19,000 through the Penn State “Blue-White” Spring Football Game (where 70,000 people came to talk to her about Bands4RAINN), the Student Book Store on College Avenue, online donations and selling bands4rainn locally to help the fight against sexual violence.
While spearheading Bands4RAINN was largely an independent effort on Kelsey’s part, Kelsey says that support from RAINN was instrumental in making her project come to fruition. “They supported me from the very start in multiple ways. They let me use their mantra, “HOPE. COURAGE. STRENGTH.” as the saying on my wristbands, they helped me set up a website to gain donations, they sold Bands4RAINN at their online store, and they continually supported my efforts in the press.” In addition, Kelsey ascribes Bands4RAINN’s success to the contribution of Michael Pilato. An artist whose famous “INSPIRATIONS” mural is painted on the side of College Avenue’s Student Book Store, Michael Pilato mentions Bands4RAINN on his mural tours, letting people know that they could support Bands4RAINN’s initiatives through purchasing from the store.
Kelsey’s success is undeniable: she has received a host of accolades for her work founding Bands4RAINN, including the 2013 RAINN “HOPE” Award, 2013 Prudential Spirit of Community Award, 2013 President’s Volunteer Service Award, and was named as a NNPAAW Honoree. She has also been featured in numerous online articles, including Wall Street Journal, MarketWatch, and CNN Online for her efforts and volunteer dynamism. Since Bands4RAINN’s inception two years ago, Kelsey has founded a second project, WarEagles4RAINN, a Sexual Violence Awareness Week (SVAW) at her school. Still in the budgetary fundraising phase, Kelsey is currently collaborating with her classmates to “gain corporate sponsors and sell new custom bands specific to WarEagles4RAINN”.
The first annual WarEagles4RAINNSWAV takes place on April 13 through 18, 2014, starting with the Concert4Courage at the Hard Rock Cafe. Kelsey aspires to have Bands4RAINN and WarEagles4Rainn “raise over $100,000 for RAINN while bringing this tough subject to the forefront of American thought”. Understanding the significance of letting victims of sexual assault know that they are fully supported, she wants to have them know that “wherever they turn, people are there for them, just like I am”. Her long-term goals include ultimately working for RAINN, providing invaluable contributions of victim care and assistance, but delving deeper in their “mission of educating the public and changing laws to help put rapists where they belong… in a prison cell.” In short, Kelsey's philosophy of change is nothing short of inspiring. If you have questions, contact Kelsey at